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Electric Light: Poems Hardcover – April 8, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 98 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374146837
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374146832
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,144,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Seamus Heaney's 11th collection of poems, Electric Light, continues his excavation of childhood, his vivifying love of nature, and his quest into the meaning of poetry itself in an utterly pleasurable and satisfying way. As the poet squares up to his own mortality, many of the poems are dedicated to the memory of lost friends and poets like Joseph Brodsky. Yet the urgency and optimism of new birth is a lively presence in the book too. "Bann Valley Eclogue," for example, prophesizes a time when "old markings / Will avail no more to keep east bank from west. / The valley will be washed like the new baby." And in "Out of the Bag," the child narrator believes that newborns emerge from the doctor's bag--or, in one hallucinatory moment, from the washbasin: "The baby bits all come together swimming / Into his soapy big hygienic hands."

Childhood is an unfading, unfailing element in Heaney's work, and is caught with a breathless vitality. "The Real Names" revisits the schoolboys who played Shakespeare: Owen Kelly as "Sperrins Caliban" with "turnip fists," and "Catatonic Bobby X" as Feste, "with his curled-in shoulders and cabbage-water eyes / speechlessly rocking." Here is the humor, exactness, scope, and tenderness of Heaney at his best. His language is as muscular and inventive as ever. Idiom meets innovation in compounds like rut-shuddery and flood-slubs--and waver is neatly subverted into a noun in "Perch." Throughout Electric Light, Heaney demonstrates exactly how poetry can capture the "flows and steady go of the world." --Cherry Smyth

From Publishers Weekly

Fluent, enjoyable and often masterful, this 11th book of verse from the Irish Nobel Laureate splits neatly in two. The first, larger and more varied half of the volume gathers translations and adaptations, occasional and celebratory poems, and verse about travel in Ireland's gaeltacht (Irish-speaking rural areas), as well as in the Balkans and Greece. Hints of the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf (which Heaney recently translated) play second fiddle here to the eclogues of Virgil and to celebrations of childbirth, which Heaney has made one of his specialties. Some of the strongest poems recall Heaney's own childhood in the 1950s. Part two of the book consists entirely of elegies: some commemorate poets (Ted Hughes, Joseph Brodsky, Zbigniew Herbert) and comment on those poets' works, while others remember relatives and friends Heaney's dying father, for example, or (in the title poem) a whispering grandmother, "with her fur-lined felt zippers unzipped." In both sections Heaney sticks largely to the evocative pentameters of his 1990s books, with rhythms suited to represent "the everything flows and steady go of the world" a stream of joyful memories, alloyed but not overwhelmed by grief. Heaney's new volume is far from being his strongest, or strangest, or most demanding book: it's well crafted, but feels like a fortuitous culling rather than a fully realized project.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Russ Mayes VINE VOICE on June 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Like any collection, there are highs and lows, but there are a few poems that would rank among Heaney's best in this collection. Moreso than his other collections, this one seems heavily weighted with the literary past. Heaney has always been interested in Irish history, but in this collection, he changes his focus to literary history and the immediate poetic past. In the last section of the book, 5 of the 9 poems are explicitly addressed to poets of Heaney's generation who have passed away. In that sense, the book is a bit pensive in tone, but it is enlivened by anecdote and word play. For Heaney fans, I recommend it, but if you are new to his work, you'd be better off with one of his Selected Works (I think he's published 3), or an early to mid-career book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan T. Smillie on July 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With "Electric Light", Seamus Heaney steps over, or rather blurs, the boundary between poet and audience. Although some of his earlier work has dealt with poetry from the writer's perspective, numerous works in this book are addressed to, dedicated to, or in memory of (and in some cases all three) other poets. At times, this can give this collection a somewhat elegiac tone, but Heaney's powerful, careful and affecting use of the English language shines throughout, particularly in "Audenesque", which manages to be a tribute to Auden, an elegy for Joseph Brodsky, and a fine exercise in meter and rhythm all in one.
As with previous collections, Heaney's memories of his childhood and youth in Ireland are cleverly intermixed with classical allusion and earthy modern notes. Overall, the tone of "Electric Light" is darker than that of, say "The Spirit Level" (the title poem, for example, has more substance and less enticing whimsy than his previous "A Sofa in the Forties") but this merely allows moments of fun, such as his "Glosses" - ten short pieces on various subjects- "The Real Names" and "Red, White, and Blue" to stand out more clearly than they might have otherwise.
Heaney has written and spoken eloquently on the "redress of poetry"- the purpose, the need and the drive of poetry to serve as a medium of communication and conversation in the modern, larger world as well as the classical, academic one. With its juxtaposition of poetic in-jokes, everyday observation and personal but not private reminiscence, "Electric Light" strikes a kind balance between these two worlds.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By OneSmartNut on April 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
If Seamus Heaney was a recording artist instead of a poet, the poems of Electric Light would be B-sides: many of them are well-executed, all of them have elements of the linguistic verve and elegance for which Heaney is renowned, but none of them are stick-out spectacular. That is, if Heaney's already spectacular body of work is setting the par.
Poems such as "Montana" are concise stories that lyrically weave the nature of a person, a relationship, and the past together with lines that make good fodder for a week or two's rolling over in the mind: "Even then he was like an apparition/ A rambler from the Free State and a gambler/ All eyes as the pennies rose and slowed/ On Sunday mornings"; others, like "Perch" are meanderings into the sonic quality of words, without so much as coherent sentence: "Guzzling the Current, against it, all muscle and slur/ In the finland of perch, the fenland of alder, on air/ That is water". But other poems are, for Heaney, largely unexceptional.
Electric Light is a good collection of poems for a lazy Sunday afternoon: there are plenty of poems to contemplate poolside, but not enough hits for this collection of b-sides to go platinum.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Neil Scott Mcnutt on April 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this collection of poems Heaney goes back to his childhood memories of discoveries and fantasies. Some are amusing fantasies that are fun and possibly not unique to Heaney. For example in "Out of the Bag" he dwells on the idea that little children are constructed from infant parts carried into the delivery room in the doctor's black bag. Other poems are about remembering childhood discoveries, such as the magic of electricity in "Electric Light", which ends the book. Heaney has fun in "Audenesque", in which he writes "Its measured ways I tread again/ Quatrain by constrained quatrain, / Meting grief and reason out/ As you said a poem ought." Some of the poems should be read aloud to catch the sounds of the words, particularly the wonderful neologisms. Overall the mood is mellow and lacks the passion of the earlier works, such as those published in the collection of selected poems from 1966-1996 called "Opened Ground".
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Klotz on August 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This was Heaney's first book of original verse after completing his sublime translation of Beowulf. If you love his rendering of that epic poem as much as I do, you will share my delight when you discover allusions to Beowulf and reflections on the translation process sitting snugly in poems throughout Electric Light.
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